Professor Hirschfeld Visits Bede's To Inspire Our Mathematicians


Earlier this week Bede’s welcomed Professor James Hirschfeld to talk to our Mathematicians on ‘Sending Secret Messages’.

His talk encompassed cryptography, coding theory and a crash course in modern communication.

The science of sending secret messages is Cryptography and goes back over 2000 years. Professor Hirschfeld, who has been a lecturer at Sussex University for more than 50 years, began by explaining the history behind this method of communication, outlining both ancient and modern methods of Cryptography. The most famous being Enigma, an encryption machine that encrypted messages for transmission and used during the Second World War.

The mathematics behind encryption often relies on properties of prime numbers and linear algebra. In other words, the receiver does not have to be a computer to decrypt the message, but anyone who possesses fundamental knowledge of prime numbers and basic arithmetic operations.  

Secret messages are widely used in modern communication. Electronic authentication, banking and credit cards are just a few applications. Today almost every code you see is encrypted, waiting to be decrypted by the right key.

Professor Hirschfeld went on to give examples of how this is used in modern communication methods. The 16 digit code on a credit card is the encrypted message and parts of the key are the three digits on the back of the card. Similarly, the bar code on every product we buy is encrypted until a barcode scanner decrypts it and turns it into a readable form.

We were delighted to be able to welcome Professor Hirschfeld to Bede’s to share his knowledge with our mathematicians and show just how applicable maths is in our day to day lives!


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